Interactive Read-Alouds for Upper Elementary Students

I saw interactive read-alouds in action during my field experience before I heard about them in my graduate courses. I noticed that the fourth-grade teacher I was observing would read aloud from a Beverly Cleary book each day, pausing sporadically to ask questions along the way.

I was amazed by the class’s positive response. Regardless of what else had happened that day, students were always actively engaged in the reading and class discussion. Even students who had a tendency to get distracted or disrupt lessons were captivated by the story and wanted to participate.

What are interactive read-alouds?

During an interactive read-aloud, a teacher reads out loud from a text to a small group or the whole class. Before the reading, the teacher briefly introduces students to the book to activate any prior knowledge students may have of the text or the subject of the story. Throughout the read-aloud, the teacher will pause and ask clarifying questions to assess students’ comprehension of the text, and help them make connections between the text and their own lives.

The best read-aloud books are above grade level and reflect complex language patterns and a rich vocabulary. They are considered mentor texts because they highlight specific reading and/or writing skills. Read-aloud books often contain a moral or lesson that teachers will highlight with their students, and characters that children can relate to and sympathize with.

Benefits of interactive read-alouds

By reading aloud, teachers model good reading behaviors, fluency, and deep thinking. Read-alouds make difficult texts more accessible and expose students to a range of vocabulary words and literary genres. You can connect interactive read-alouds to a range of content areas by reading subject-specific texts.

Interactive read-alouds also promote a sense of community in the classroom. The teacher can refer back to a text that was used for a read-aloud, and every student in the room will be familiar with it. Read-alouds help develop good discussion skills and prepare students to analyze literature on their own.

Not just for younger students

In the past, interactive read-alouds have been reserved for the younger grades, but they are beneficial for older students as well. As children get older, it’s important to select read-aloud books that reflect the kind of writing you expect your students to do. Chapter books are great read-alouds for older kids who are able to pick up easily where a story left off. Here are four great chapter mentor texts for upper elementary students:

‘Wonder’ by R.J. Palacio

This story follows fifth-grader August Pullman as he navigates school for the first time after being homeschooled because of his facial deformities. It is a great text that emphasizes the effects of and our ability to overcome bullying.

‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ by Roald Dahl

This fun Roald Dahl classic contains language and moral lessons that make it a great option for a read-aloud. It’s a fun book to introduce to children these days because many have seen the movies but don’t realize it’s a book.

‘Maniac Magee’ by Jerry Spinelli

This book is presented as a folk tale but tells a very real story about racism and trying to find your place in the world. The writing is excellent, and the story is rich enough to promote some really good class discussions.

‘The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane’ by Kate DiCamillo

This book tells the story of a lost china rabbit and the people he encounters on his journey. It can be a bit sad at times but is equally heartwarming, and it shows students how those who experience loss can love and find friendship again.

Lisandra I. Flynn spent 2012 to 2014 working toward a master’s degree in elementary education while working full time as an editor. After seven years in publishing, she recently transitioned from corporate life to student teach fifth grade in an elementary school. Flynn shares her journey from the office to the classroom and offers insight and advice to those seeking their own career change.